What miracle substance heals wounds, reverses radiation burns and saves lives? Need more clues? It’s odorless, colorless and found everywhere. Give up? The answer is oxygen.
“Oxygen is a very important molecule our bodies use to fight infection and to heal wounds,” says Matthew B. Schumer, MD, family medicine physician at Saint Francis Medical Center. “When we breathe normal air, we breathe 21 percent oxygen, which is adequate for most people to heal even the most complex wounds. In certain situations, however, our body needs even more oxygen due to serious infections, poor circulation, etc. This is when we consider hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is the use of 100 percent pure oxygen at higher than normal pressures to treat medical illness.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is common, comfortable and safe. Patients can rest or watch TV as they recline in a large transparent cylindrical chamber. A nurse, reachable by intercom, is beside the chamber at all times to assist or answer questions. Patients typically spend two hours in the chamber, five days a week, for four to 12 weeks.
“The benefits of this time investment are, typically, that a patient enjoys healing a previously non-healing wound and avoiding the amputation of a limb,” says Schumer. “In the case of carbon monoxide poisoning or gas gangrene, it can be truly lifesaving therapy. Most of our hyperbaric oxygen patients tell us, as they ‘graduate,’ that they’re glad they did it and it was easier than they thought it would be.”
One of the more common injuries treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is radiation injury. “As more and more people succeed in fighting and surviving cancer treatments long-term, we find a lot of folks 10 and 15 years after completing radiation therapy who may have inadvertently damaged their healthy tissues,” says Schumer. “For instance, after radiation treatment for prostate cancer, many men suffer radiation burns to their bladder or to their colon/rectum. The only medical intervention shown to be helpful in halting, and in some cases reversing, symptoms of radiation injury is hyperbaric oxygen therapy.”
For more information, visit www.sfmc.net or call 573-331-3996.